Coin Rarities & Related Topics: Collecting Silver Dimes by Design Type

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #113

The topic here is assembling a type set of silver dimes. This discussion is aimed primarily at beginning and intermediate level collectors. Those who have no idea as to how to go about collecting coins may wish to read an earlier column on Basics for Beginners. (As always, clickable links are in blue.) General collecting advice is provided therein and in another relevant column, advice for beginning and intermediate collectors of U.S. coins.

In the traditions of coin collecting, the two primary methods of assembling sets involve collecting 'by type' or collecting 'by date.' Generally, collecting 'by type' is less expensive and requires less time than collecting 'by date,' though there are exceptions.

Collectors who seek to assemble a set usually choose a type set or a date set. A quest for a 'date set' typically involves acquiring many or (in theory) all issues 'by date and Mint location' for a particular design type. Generally, multiple die varieties for one date (and Mint location) are usually not included in 'date' sets.

Collecting even one design type 'by date' may require a lot of time. One-year or two-year types are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Examples of one-year type coins are 1796 quarters and 1883 'No Cents' nickels, which I discussed last week. Typically, assembling a type set is much less difficult than a date set of one of the types included in a given type set.

Few collectors ever attempt a comprehensive type set of all classic U.S. coins, with representatives of all denominations and types that were minted from 1793 to 1933. Such a comprehensive type set would include copper, nickel, silver and gold coins. Indeed, a comprehensive type set of classic U.S. coins would cost a fortune, as 1796 'No Stars' Quarter Eagles and 1808 Bust Left Quarter Eagles are each extremely rare, one-year design types.

So, 99% of all collectors of classic type coins build type sets that are not that comprehensive. In a two part series that was published in 2010, I maintain that the true dividing line between classic and modern U.S. coins is 1933/34. Silver Roosevelt Dimes, however, were minted for circulation from 1946 to 1964. So, as the current topic is collecting silver dimes by design type, I am logically compelled to include Roosevelt Dimes in my discussion herein.

A sensible and typical scope for a type set is one denomination. Dimes are a denomination, as are quarters, half dollars, Two Cent pieces, and Eagles ($10 gold coins), among others. A denomination, however, is not just an indication of face value. A silver dollar and a Gold Dollar each have the same face value, yet are two different denominations. Three Cent Silvers and Three Cent Nickels likewise were both worth three cents each when spent in the 19th century, yet these constitute two different denominations. Silver dimes are a denomination that is different from the copper-nickel clad dimes that have been minted from 1965 to the present.

A type set of silver dimes needs, to be complete, one representative of each design type. Type coins may be collected in a wide range of grades, from Poor-01 all the way to MS-68 or higher, when available. For simplicity, I am limiting this discussion to business strikes, though it is perfectly logical to include Proofs in type sets as well.

Indeed, last week, I suggested that collectors assembling 'date' sets of uncirculated Liberty Nickels consider including Proofs in such a set. While the PCGS and NGC set registries prohibit the inclusion of Proofs in 'date and Mint' sets of Liberty Nickels, these registries allow for the mixing of business strikes and Proofs in type sets, as they should.

Also for simplicity, this article is aimed at collectors who have at least a little bit of money to spend. Please click to read an article that I wrote last year that covers dimes that cost less than $250, even many that cost less than $15 each. That article was directed to collectors on a tight budget. I am not arguing here that collectors should necessarily spend more than $250 on a dime when a pertinent one that costs $50 may be a better value. I am, though, directing the current discussion at collectors who could spend $250 or more on some individual coins, and may consider spending as much as $2500 for one dime. I mention auction results, however, for several dimes that are under $100 each. A fortune is not needed to build a type set of silver dimes.

I. Type Set of Silver Dimes

U.S. Dimes dating from 1796 to 1837 are approximately 89.24% silver. Those dating from later in 1837 all the way to 1964 are approximately 90% silver and 10% copper.

A type set of silver dimes requires just thirteen coins: 1) Draped Bust, Small Eagle 1796-97; 2) Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle 1798-1807; 3) Capped Bust, 'Large' 1809-28; 4) Capped Bust, 'Small' 1828-37; 5) Liberty Seated, No Stars on Obverse (front) 1837-38; 6) Liberty Seated with Stars and No Drapery on Obverse 1838-40; 7) Liberty Seated with Stars and Drapery on Obverse 1840-1853, 1856-60; 8) Liberty Seated -- Arrows & Stars on Obverse 1853-55; 9) Liberty Seated - Legend on Obverse 1860-73, 1875-91; 10) Liberty Seated - Arrows & Legend on Obverse. 1873-74; 11) Barber 1892-1916; 12) Mercury 1916-45; 13) Roosevelt 1946-64.

One way to enhance a type set is to select better dates rather than the least scarce dates of each respective design type. Another way is to include a representative of each Mint that struck coins of a given design type. As four different Mints struck Barber Dimes, an expanded type set of this sort would include Barber Dimes from the Philadelphia, New Orleans, San Francisco and Denver Mints.

As the earlier types tend to be more expensive and scarcer, I start by discussing the later types of dimes. These are easy to find.

II. Roosevelt Dimes

Roosevelt Dimes are extremely common, even silver ones. Indeed, many millions of silver Roosevelt Dimes survive.

In MS-63 grade, a raw (not certified), silver Roosevelt dime could be acquired for less than $4.50. A MS-65 grade coin probably could be found for $5 or less.

As I am focusing in this discussion on coins that sell for somewhat significant sums, it makes sense to point out that Roosevelt Dimes that are PCGS certified as having “Full Bands” or NGC certified as exhibiting a “Full Torch” often cost much more than coins of the same numerical grade that are not so designated.

For example, the PCGS price guide estimates a PCGS graded MS-67 1958 dime as having a retail value of “$48,” while a PCGS graded MS-67 1958 with a “Full Bands” designation has a retail value of “$4000”! In actuality, the price gap may not be quite this wide. Even so, I recommend against paying substantial premiums for dimes that have “Full Bands” or “Full Torch” designations. The additional detail on the reverse (back) is hardly noticeable. In my view, neither the designation nor the additional detail that such a designation is said to indicate should be worth much of a premium.

I suggest that interested collectors find a dealer at a coin show, who has multiple PCGS or NGC certified Roosevelt Dimes of the same numerical grade. Ask for several dimes that are certified by the same service in the same grade to be placed in a group, including at least two that have the “Full Bands” or “Full Torch” designation and at least two that do not qualify for such a designation. By engaging in such comparisons, my guess is that most collectors would find that the additional detail on the torch is not overwhelming.

So, while it is easy to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on individual Roosevelt Dimes with such designations, I recommend against doing so. A collector assembling a type set, who has considerable money to spend, should buy a certified MS-67 or MS-68 grade dime without any such designation.

In Jan. 2007, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded MS-68 1958-D dime for $3450. As this coin has maybe a retail value of $1400 now, there must be some explanation as to why it then realized $3450. Bidders may have figured that it has “Full Bands” or that the NGC may grade it as MS-69. It is also possible that someone demanded it for a PCGS registry set and was willing to pay an above-market price to obtain it. In any event, I would not recommend paying $3000 for a Roosevelt Dime.

After all, the masterminds behind PCGS CoinFacts estimate that literally one million 1958-D dimes grade “MS-65 or better.” This may be a conservative estimate.

While browsing auction records, I noted that, in March 2011, HA (Heritage Auctions) sold a set of 1946, 1946-D and 1946-S Roosevelt Dimes for a total of $53. Each is PCGS graded MS-66. The cost per coin, about $17.67, is less than a standard PCGS grading fee. As 1946 is the first year of Roosevelt Dimes, and one of each Mint is included, this auction lot seems like a good buy, though I did not see these three specific coins.

For someone who is not satisfied with a certified MS-66 Roosevelt Dime, a PCGS graded MS-67 1946-S sold in Dec. 2011 for $38 and one could easily be found for a price in the range of $35 to $45. For less than $150, I am almost certain that a collector could find a wonderfully toned, silver Roosevelt Dime that is PCGS graded MS-67. Indeed, for less than $500 in total, a PCGS or NGC graded MS-67 Roosevelt Dime of each Mint, three in total, could be obtained.

III. Mercury Dimes

Mercury Dimes were minted from 1916 to 1945. While these are not rare, Mercury Dimes are not nearly as common as Roosevelt Dimes. Coins minted after 1934 tend to be much more common than those minted before 1934. For a type set, though, a common 1945 is sufficient.

Years before Roosevelt Dimes were sometimes designated as having “Full Bands” or a “Full Torch,” Mercury Dimes with a “Full Bands” designation often brought substantial premiums. A 1918-S is worth less than $5,000 if PCGS graded MS-67, yet may be worth as much as $100,000 if it is PCGS certified 'MS-67 Full Bands,' possibly twenty times as much at retail. 'Full Bands' refers to slight additional detail attributable to better defined horizontal bands the middle of the reverse (back of the coin).

In my opinion, 'Full Bands' are not that important. These are not very noticeable. I could understand a 5% premium, not a 1900% premium.

The premium, of course, is much less than 1000% for most dates. Even so, it is usually substantial. Two different PCGS certified 'MS-67 Full Bands' 1945-D Mercs were sold by HA this month, one for $115, the other for $151.80. In contrast, PCGS graded MS-67 1945-D dimes, without 'Full Bands' designations, sold for $32 in June, for $44 in late May, and for $47 in early May.

It is possible that a PCGS graded MS-68 Mercury Dime could be acquired for less than $600, though more than $1000 may be needed for one, depending upon the characteristics of the individual coin and the circumstances in which it is offered. PCGS or NGC graded MS-67 1944-S dimes have been recently selling at auction for prices between $40 and $60. Occasionally, one will bring much more than $60.

In sum, PCGS graded MS-67 1945, 1945-D and 1944-S dimes are available and are not expensive. Therefore, a superb set of Mercs of all three mints for an expanded type set is not difficult to obtain.

Many of the gem quality Mercury and Roosevelt Dimes that I have seen are awkwardly white, often from having been dipped in acidic solutions. I suggest finding coins that are colorfully toned to an extant. Many of those that are extremely vibrant have been artificially toned. Discuss toning with experts. Great Mercury and Roosevelt Dimes, as type coins, are easy to find for less than $250 each, and often can be purchased for less than $100 each, or maybe even for less than $25 each.

Alternately, collectors of type coins may wish to consider that the NGC has certified more than three hundred different 1945-S dimes as “MS-68,” and these tend to sell at auction for between $200 and $400. Each collector could wait and choose one that he or she really likes.

IV. Barber Dimes

Barber Dimes were minted from 1892 to 1916. These are much scarcer than Mercs, especially in 'Mint State' grades. While Mercs and Roosevelt Dimes were produced at three Mints, Barber Dimes were struck at four Mints, those in Philadelphia, San Francisco and Denver, plus the New Orleans Mint, which ceased operation in 1909.

As the 1892 Philadelphia issue is not a rare date and it is the first issue of the design type, it is a good choice for a type set. After all, it is a 19th century coin. This month, HA auctioned a PCGS graded AU-55 1892 for $59. In May, an NGC graded MS-62 sold for $126.50. Further, in April, HA sold two different NGC graded MS-64 grade 1892 dimes on the same day, one for $253 and the other for $345. Also on this very same day in April, a PCGS graded MS-65 1892 realized $690.

In February, an NGC graded MS-66 1892 dime, with a CAC sticker, brought $1265. At the CSNS Convention auction in April, an NGC graded MS-67 1892, also with a CAC sticker, sold for $3450 by HA, a moderate price.

Some other Philadelphia Mint Barber Dime issues sell for similar prices. For the collector who is assembling an expanded type set, with all Mints represented, a 1911-D or a 1914-D may be considerations. A 1911-D that is PCGS or NGC graded AU-58 could certainly be obtained for less than $100. One that is graded MS-62 sells for between $100 and $150 at auction, usually less than $125. A 1911-D that is PCGS or NGC graded MS-63 could be found for between $150 and $200. Some of those 1911-D dimes that grade MS-64 sold at auction for between $250 and $300, over the past year.

A PCGS graded MS-65 1911-D, with a CAC sticker, sold in May for $561.20 and a different one was auctioned for $632.50 in April. HA sold a PCGS graded MS-65 1914-D for $632.50 in January. Other 1914-D dimes may be obtained for prices that are similar to those for roughly equivalent 1911-D Dimes.

As for New Orleans Mint coins, 1906-O dimes are excellent choices for expanded type sets. In Dec., a PCGS graded VF-35 1906-O dime sold for $59. In Jan., an NGC graded MS-64 1906-O realized $431.25. Recently, HA sold two different PCGS graded MS-65 1906-O dimes, each with a CAC sticker, one for $977.50 in April and another for $891.25 in early June.

For such an expanded, 'All Mints,' type set, the 1916-S may be the least expensive San Francisco Mint dime in choice or gem uncirculated grades. In May, HA sold an NGC graded AU-58 for $59. A certified MS-64 grade 1916-S could be found for less than $400. In April, a PCGS graded MS-66 1916-S, with a CAC sticker, brought $2415, a moderate to strong price.

As always, before spending an amount that the individual collector regards as 'a lot of money,' I suggest consulting an expert who knows how to grade dimes and who understands markets for them. In many instances, there are sound reasons as to why two coins of the same numerical grade from the same grading service realize much different prices, even when sold by the same auction firm in the same month.

V. Capped Bust Dimes

Liberty Seated Dimes date from 1837 to 1891, and there are six design types. A discussion of these, even just as type coins, requires a separate inquiry, especially if mintmarked coins are considered as well. Before there were Liberty Seated Dimes, there were Capped Bust Dimes.

There are two design types of Capped Bust Dimes, though the differences are not easy to explain. The first type was minted from 1809 to 1828, and the second from 1828 to 1837. A common way to distinguish them is with the terms 'Large Date' and 'Small Date,' though this method is not completely clear. Differences in the design are not dramatic, and there is a slight difference in the specifications for the respective diameters.

For the 'Large Date' type, collectors assembling type sets tend to select an 1820, an 1825 or an 1827. In Nov. 2011, HA auctioned an NGC graded VG-8 1825 for $89. A little more than a month earlier, a PCGS graded Fine-12 1825 dime sold for $172.50. In Dec. 2011, in New York, an NGC graded Extremely Fine-40 coin realized $488.75, a strong price. Choice uncirculated coins of this type tend to cost thousands of dollars. In Feb., a PCGS graded MS-64 1827 brought $4600.

For the purposes of a type set, 'Small Date' Capped Bust Dimes are not much less expensive than 'Large Date' ones in Choice Uncirculated grades, though they are considerably less costly in circulated grades. In Oct., HA auctioned a PCGS graded VF-25 1833 for $99, and, in Nov., a PCGS graded AU-55 1833 for $431.25. In Jan., HA sold an NGC graded MS-63 1833 dime for $1330.55 and a PCGS MS-63 1833 for $1610. In Feb., an NGC graded MS-64 1833 dime realized $2530.

VI. Draped Bust Dimes

There are two types of Draped Bust Dimes. These have the same obverse (front) design. Only for two years, in 1796 and 1797, dimes were minted with a so called 'Small Eagle' reverse (back) design. The 'Small Eagle' is not small; it is called a 'small eagle' to distinguish it from the 'Heraldic Eagle' design, where an eagle with a shield on its chest covers a very large percentage of the surface of the back of each coin. In relative terms, the representation of an eagle in the 'Small Eagle' reverse design is notably smaller than the eagle of the Heraldic Eagle reverse design.

As the 1797 is much rarer than the 1796, collectors assembling type sets almost always select a 1796, especially since this is the first year that dimes were minted in the U.S. In Feb. 2009, Heritage (HA) auctioned a PCGS graded Fair-02 1796 for $632.50. A fair retail price for this coin now would be in the $750 to $850 range, probably.

Just recently, in April 2012, HA auctioned an NGC graded AG-03 coin for $1610. Over the past few years, auction results for PCGS or NGC graded Good-04 1796 dimes have fallen in a wide range of $2000 to $3000 or so.

Heraldic Eagle dimes are not as expensive. These were minted from 1798 to 1807, though none are dated 1799 or 1806. The 1807 issue is a typical choice for collectors of type coins.

This month, HA auctioned a PCGS graded AG-03 1807 for $373.75. In April, this same firm auctioned three 1807 dimes, an NGC VG-08 for $805, a PCGS EF-45 for $2336.80 and an NGC graded AU-58 dime for $3737.50.

VII. Concluding Remarks

Type sets may be paths towards other collecting pursuits or are ultimate goals themselves. Type collectors like examining and owning coins of different designs from different time periods. Type sets tend to require less time and money than relevant 'date' sets.

In the event that a collector building a type set finds that he or she is very attracted to a particular type, the collector may wish to collect that series by date and mint location. As all Draped Bust and Capped Bust Dimes were minted in Philadelphia, there is no need for collectors of those series to think about Mint locations. Generally, if a collector is attracted to a particular series, it may make sense to learn about the 'better dates' in that series and to think about a strategy.

Above all, coin collecting should be fun. It is important to have realistic objectives and to choose coins that the respective collector enjoys owning.

©2012 Greg Reynolds

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